Beating Business Atrophy

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Businesses are usually in one of three modalities; growth, stagnant or decline. Every business is unique, but Michael E. Gerber, author of “The E Myth Revisited,” says there’s a common thread. “The problem with most failing businesses I’ve encountered isn’t that their owners don’t know enough about finance, marketing, management and operations – they don’t, but those things are easy enough to learn – but that they spend their time and energy defending what they think they know. The greatest business people I’ve met are determined to get it right no matter what the cost.”

Michael seems to be clearly saying that we have to be willing to adapt in order to become and remain successful in business. The problem is we’re creatures of habit. We get into routines; some might have even been beneficial to our success at one point in our careers. However, if we’re not aware of these patterns, they will only become more difficult to change with every passing day and even sabotage our future success.

Neuroscience would say behaviors repeated over and over again create neural pathways like water etching a creek out of the soil over time. Consequently, the longer we’ve thought or behaved a certain way, the more likely we are to be “in pattern” or to repeat those behaviors.  You see, our habits today effect tomorrow’s reality. So, if you want to improve your future, improve your habits. What habits are you holding onto that are sabotaging your success?

I’m intrigued by business turnaround reality shows like “Bar Rescue” or “Restaurant Impossible.” It amazes me how blind we, business owners, can become to our own business atrophy. In one episode of “Bar Rescue,” Jon Taffer confronts the bar owner who started out as one of the first tremendously successful karaoke bars over 30 years ago. Three decades later, this once successful bar owner is weeks away from bankruptcy and is resisting change with every bone in his body. He was afraid change meant a loss of identity or perhaps a new world of uncertainty. To make these kinds of adjustments, it will mean discomfort.

Our subconscious plays a central role in keeping us from discomfort. Because of this primal protector, our brains often associate even the simple discomfort of change with real danger. Once triggered, this protector will do its job and try to protect you at all cost. The problem is it often doesn’t know the difference between an enemy and a foe. The result is typically defensiveness, inattention and sometimes defiance. These feelings of resistance, if left unchallenged, could be costing you plenty, and in some cases, you could lose clients, your business or worse. We have to calm this protector down in order to make changes.

According to research conducted by Dale Carnegie, adaptability is one of the top three most critical skills of successful leaders. If we’re not learning to master personal change, it will be incredibly difficult to facilitate change within your organization. It may be time to take a closer look at your habits and patterns to decide where you need to adapt with new habits.

The world of science tells us that simply willing ourselves into change is not enough. The key to sustaining change long enough to form new habits requires a replacement strategy. We must replace unwanted behaviors with new ones. The process of change is rather simple to follow. The key is to be patient and persistent with small intentional steps, such as:

Inventory Your Habits
For two weeks, track your activities each day for two reasonably typical weeks. I suggest creating a daily log with 30-minute increments from the time you get up to the time you go to bed. Every 30 minutes, jot down your activities during that window of time. If you’re a techie, consider using a date and time stamped recorder. Just remember to write it down later. Seeing your results over time is very important. Look for any patterns where your behaviors hold back your potential and consequently your business.

Identify Habits to Replace
From the behavior patterns you noticed in your time tracking exercise, identify three of the most potentially harmful ones to you currently and particularly in your future. If you’re wondering whether to pick personal or professional habits, it doesn’t matter. They tend to show up in both areas, so just pick your biggest culprits. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends, family or others that know and care about you. Among your most obsolete or harmful habits, pick the ones with the highest payoff now and down the road. It’s important to start with high payoff habits.

Decide on Replacement Behavior
To remove a habit, we must replace it with a new one. If you have a tendency to eat unhealthy food right after work, change your pattern. Maybe you typically walk in through the kitchen when you get home. For several weeks, walk in through the front door and go straight to a new destination, like your bedroom to change into comfortable clothing for a walk. If you end up in the kitchen later because you’re tempted to eat the wrong thing, don’t fret it the first couple weeks. Just be consistent with the new pattern of coming in the door and immediately changing into walking clothes. After the first couple weeks of being consistent, add a new behavior like actually taking a five-minute walk. Make it short and simple. Perhaps the next week you add another five minutes and so on. Eventually you’ll have replaced the behaviors with habit upgrade.

Look for the Triggers
Usually there’s a trigger that starts the unwelcome behaviors. For instance, right before you decide to eat the wrong food, what are you doing routinely? In the prior example, it was walking into the kitchen from the garage that possibly triggered the pattern of grabbing a few cookies. The common behavior point after pulling into the driveway is going through the kitchen entry. So from now on, in this example, every time you pull in your driveway, make a conscious decision to go through the front door.

Small Big Steps
Interestingly enough, we’re motivated to change according to the perceived delta received from the pleasure obtained from the change and the pain that’s avoided. Actually making the desired changes works the same way.  In other words, those replacement behaviors mentioned earlier must be a series of small incremental changes that add up to big emotional successes and over time huge improvements to your reality.

This process of change is a continuum. Those who demonstrate a lifelong learning mentality are the most respected and often successful business leaders in the world. They often thrive on change but not for the sake of change but rather to be more effective. We feel amazing about life, others and ourselves when we’re reaching more of our potential. As a result, we experience the rewards in dignity and identity, core definitions of who we are and what we can accomplish – no one can take these things away.

Todd Mauney is founder and president of ROI Coaching Solutions, a boutique coaching consultancy offering tailored coaching solutions to privately held business owners in the financial and professional services industries. Prior to starting his own coaching firm, Todd co-founded ProAdvisor Coach and served as President until April of 2012.

Todd Mauney is founder and president of ROI Coaching Solutions, a boutique coaching consultancy offering tailored coaching solutions to privately held business owners in the financial and professional services industries. Prior to starting his own coaching firm, Todd co-founded ProAdvisor Coach and served as President until April of 2012.

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